Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
As "Charlie Charlie Challenge" -- a game that encourages teens to 'play with demons' -- sweeps social media, a Catholic high school minister in Philadelphia urged students to keep their distance.
"There is a dangerous game going around on social media which openly encourages impressionable young people to summon demons," wrote Father Stephen McCarthy, a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in an open letter to students at Sts. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School. "I want to remind you all there is no such thing as 'innocently playing with demons.'"
Britain's Daily Mirror reported on the priest's letter, which was linked to a student's Twitter feed. The priest was not immediately available for comment.
In just over 48 hours, an estimated 2 million people have used the hashtag #CharlieCharlieChallenge, reported the BBC, in another striking example of the enormous power of social media.
"It's a game which involves balancing pencils over the words 'Yes' and 'No' on a piece of paper. Players ask questions, which are supposedly answered by Charlie — a mysterious demon who spookily moves the pencils, if you believe in that sort of thing," the BBC explained.
Superstitious or just well informed?
"I want to remind you all there is no such thing as 'innocently playing with demons,''' Father McCarthy told the students. "The problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities which is not easily closed."
That was an often overlooked message in The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel and blockbuster film that charts the steadily growing power of a demon --"Captain Howdy"-- called forth as a curious young girl plays with a Ouija board.
Here's one priest's warning against Ouija boards, but it also applies to Charlie Charlie Challenge.
Such prudent advice echoes the conclusions of the Church's official exorcists, who have directed the faithful not to open the door to spirits, whether the practitioner hopes to learn about the future, or to secure power and wealth.
The Devil is nothing to be trifled with. As an exorcist in Rome once told me: In a genuine case of demonic possession, the victim is fully enslaved by Satan -- never liberated or empowered.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church directs the faithful to place their cares and anxieties in the hands of God, and avoid any practices designed to access information, guidance or help from other powers. (CCC #2115).
Further, "conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future," the Catechism continues, may "conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone" (2116).
Today, as social research traces the decline of formal affiliation with organized Christian churches, which are more likely to educate believers about the reality of the Devil and to help them resist the temptation to harness his power, there has been a concurrent surge in practices that call forth Satan and his minions.
In 2014, there were two separate attempts to hold a Satanic Black Mass -- one linked to Harvard University A second ritual was performed at the Oklahoma City Civic Center, and after the blasphemous ceremony the local archbishop complied with requests for an exorcism.
Meanwhile, secular media outlets see little danger in playing Charlie Charlie Challenge. "[P]retty harmless" is how one journalist describes it.
But how much expertise on such matters does a typical reporter actually possess?
Not much -- when you compare it with a 2,000-year old Church that has learned from hard experience to guard against "Satan and all his works."